div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Defiance and dedication: Branch Davidians observe anniversary of siege with ceremony marked by anger, tears, resolve"

by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", April 20, 2000)

WACO - It was equal parts religious service and anti-government rally as Branch Davidians and their supporters gathered Wednesday to dedicate their new church on the ruins of the one destroyed in a bloody 1993 siege.
Almost 300 people crowded into the tan frame building for a day of angry speeches, tearful reminiscences and homespun ceremony. It was seven years to the day after more than 80 Davidians died amid a fire that consumed the sect's home and ended their 51-day standoff with federal authorities.
"This is an occasion for joy, because from the ashes has risen the church," said former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clarke, one of several lawyers bringing a federal wrongful-death lawsuit on behalf of surviving sect members and families of those who died. "The world must never forget what the United States government did here."
The service was led by Alex Jones, an iconoclastic Austin talk-radio host who began rallying volunteers last year to rebuild on the site known to the Branch Davidians as Mount Carmel.
Mr. Jones and others said the resulting 32-week project attracted more than 1,200 volunteers from across the country. They said they ranged from regular caravans of weekend workers from across Central Texas to a roofer who walked much of the way from West Virginia to offer a week of his time. They added that donors from 43 states, Canada and Australia donated more than $93,000 in cash and building supplies.
The result is a simple country sanctuary, one little different in outward appearance from the dozens of churches that line the backroads of McLennan County. Its few interior frills are carved window frames and doorways, a trio of lazily circling ceiling fans and a brass chandelier over the raised pulpit.
Folding chairs were spread over bare plywood flooring for Wednesday's service. Mr. Jones said final touches, including hardwood floors, carpeting, plumbing and air conditioning installation, will be completed within a month.
Replacement flag
Branch Davidian Clive Doyle, who accepted keys for the church from Mr. Jones, said the sect will soon begin holding its Saturday Bible studies there.
On Wednesday, supporters also gave the sect a custom-made blue flag to replace the one that burned at the end of the 1993 siege. A contingent of five Michigan Militia members in combat fatigues and berets also presented sect members with a commemorative plaque from their group for the new building.
Throughout Wednesday's service, the new building echoed with the impassioned speeches of Branch Davidians, militia members, housewives, engineers and even a retired Air Force general. Several complained about expenditures of "taxpayer money" and President Clinton's appearance at Wednesday's dedication of the Oklahoma City bombing memorial.
There were also occasional nods to the Branch Davidians' beliefs. Sect members have said they believe that their late leader, David Koresh, is a messiah who will soon return to punish those who killed him and his followers.
"David is coming back to set things straight, and I mean, you have no idea how straight," Catherine Matteson, one of the oldest surviving Branch Davidians, told the crowd.
The biggest applause lines were the repeated declarations that what happened to the Branch Davidians was "our second Alamo," that the government would be brought to account and that the standoff that riveted world attention on this tract of windswept prairie would not be repeated.
"Never again. No more Wacos in America," Mr. Jones declared, drawing the crowd to its feet. "The next time a Waco cranks up, if I can get there, we're not going to be building a church."
The speeches halted briefly at noon for the ringing of a massive bell for each sect member who died during the siege. Mr. Doyle, who survived the 1993 fire but whose 18-year-old daughter died in it, read the names of each sect member as the trailer-mounted bell was tolled just outside the building.
Once back inside, Mr. Doyle recited names of seven sect members serving long federal prison terms for manslaughter and weapons violations. All were convicted in 1994 on charges arising from the deaths of four agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms at the beginning of the 1993 siege.
'Something good'
The sect members died Feb. 28, 1993, when a fire broke out as ATF assault teams tried to search the sect's building for illegal weapons and arrest Mr. Koresh for weapons violations.
Mr. Doyle, who was acquitted in the 1994 trial, reminded the audience to pray for "something good to happen next Monday." The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a challenge that day from five of the imprisoned sect members, whose lawyers will argue that their sentences should be reduced.
"We don't want them to have a shorter sentence," Mr. Doyle said. "We want them out."
Outside the service, children romped in knee-high spring grass that has obscured much of the rubble of the old building. Adults sporting "Republic of Texas" nametags and T-shirts supporting causes ranging from the "American Indian Movement" to beliefs in "the vast right-wing conspiracy" chatted through the blustery spring morning.
Some grew hostile when a leather-clad biker rode up wearing emblems that identified him as an ATF agent, referred to the agency's failed 1993 raid and declared of its fallen agents, "Never forget."
Others approached to talk sympathetically when they heard that the rider was Robert Rodriguez, the undercover ATF agent who infiltrated Mount Carmel before the 1993 raid and begged his supervisors to call it off when he learned just before it began that Mr. Koresh had been tipped off.
"I'm not here to argue. Y'all have the right to believe anything you want," he told Branch Davidian supporters. "Don't expect me to take sides. I just came to pay my respects."
He said he drove 3 1/2 hours from San Antonio to Waco, just as he has each spring since the siege to remember his fallen colleagues.
"It's just part of my healing process, to come here," said Mr. Rodriguez, who retired from the ATF more than a year ago after being awarded almost $2.3 million in damages from his former employers and their consultants. The agency's leaders and raid commanders initially tried to deny that Mr. Rodriguez had warned them that they'd lost the element of surprise and then suggested that he was unstable to try to discredit his account of what happened.
"Most of the guys died right here," he said, standing in a patch of grass. "I come to this area and kinda talk to 'em. Let 'em know that somebody's thinking about 'em. That some people remember, anyway." As he walked back to his Harley, two more Davidian supporters approached. "This is David Koresh's father. He wanted to meet you," one said, pointing at his lanky, gray-headed companion.
The second man solemnly extended a hand, and Mr. Rodriguez took it. "I feel sorry for your loss," he said quietly.
The older man responded, "I feel sorry for y'all's loss."
Mr. Rodriguez nodded. "I guess everybody has lost here."

"Davidians say U.S. should take some blame for deaths"

by William H. Freivogel ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", April 21, 2000)

The Branch Davidians say the government should shoulder "some share of the responsibility" for the deaths at Waco in 1993 because the FBI didn't provide fire equipment and prematurely used tanks to knock down parts of the complex.
Mike Caddell, the main lawyer for the Branch Davidians, made that claim in asking a federal court not to throw out parts of a lawsuit blaming the government for the death of about 80 members of the sect.
Caddell termed the FBI's failure to have armored firefighting equipment at the scene a "snafu." He accused Attorney General Janet Reno of having given "evasive, nonresponsive" answers in a deposition last month. And, he told the court it was "unrealistic" to expect him to find FBI agents who would admit wrongdoing.
The Branch Davidians' argument on the fire equipment is based on Reno's pre-raid instructions to the FBI to provide "sufficient emergency vehicles to respond both from a medical and any other point of view."
Caddell cited the testimony of top FBI officials, including former FBI director William Sessions, who said they thought Reno's directive extended to fire equipment. But the FBI commanders on the scene - Jeff Jamar and Richard Rogers - testified that they thought Reno was referring to medical equipment. Reno was not told that there was no response plan for a fire.
Flamechek, a California firm, contacted the FBI's Ventura County office to offer armored fire equipment prior to the April 19, 1993, raid. Armored equipment could have been useful because the Branch Davidians were firing at agents. But word of the offer did not make it to the FBI commanders. Jamar said the FBI had checked with the Pentagon and found that no armored equipment was available.
The FBI had arranged for local fire departments to be on alert. But no fire engines had been stationed near the complex. Caddell argues that the broad discretion given law enforcement officials does not extend to such a clear violation of Reno's directive.
Caddell challenged Reno's recent testimony that Jamar and Rogers had acted within their authority when they ordered converted tanks to knock into the gym of the complex during the last hour before the fire. He charged that Reno's current account of the discretion of the commanders was suspect because of her "failure to properly investigate this matter and punish the wrongdoers - which she now must defend."
Reno and top FBI officials had rejected an initial plan which had called for tanks to knock into the building. They feared this would make the Davidians feel they were under attack. The final plan delayed destruction of the complex for 48 hours. But tanks began knocking into the complex's gym after five hours. Jamar and Rogers have said that they were not destroying the complex, but rather inserting tear gas where residents had taken refuge.

"Waco, bombing: Two tragedies, one date"

by Penny Owen ("The Oklahoman", April 20, 2000)

WACO, Texas -- They came to remember the suffering, to count the names, one by one. They came with vows to right the wrongs. With tears for the dead and with courage for those who remain.
This simple, sparsely finished church on the plains of Mount Carmel is hardly the lavish structure that represents Oklahoma City's April 19 tragedy. The floors are still sheetboard, the windows lack shades.
But it represents a grass-roots effort to give the Branch Davidians a roof again -- and, as was shown Wednesday, to provide a platform for others to rally against all that some see is wrong with the federal government, with society in general, with the whole world.
As one anti-government spokesman put it, "certainly we're standing in the second Alamo."
Exactly two years after the Waco deaths, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
On Wednesday, the anniversary of both tragedies, about a half dozen Branch Davidian survivors attended the commemoration of their humble church. Some of them had escaped the inferno that erupted April 19, 1993, after a 51-day standoff with federal agents.
They were joined by a few hundred visitors, many who traveled across the country to be there. Five members of the Michigan Militia came, as did a group called the Culpepper Minute Men and members of the Republic of Texas, a group that believes the Lone Star state is still its own country.
One man hauled in a Liberty Bell replica on his flatbed truck to ring after each name was read for those who died. Added were the names of the four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who died in the initial raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Radio host Alex Jones referred to them as the "misguided gestapo agents." Others came, as well, including neighbor Janice Hightower, whose children went to school with the Branch Davidian children who died.
"I always thought they were the kindest, sweetest people in the world," Hightower said of her Davidian neighbors.
Lee Parker of Klamath Falls, Ore., insisted that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno be held as a war criminal for what happened here.
"She is an evil, evil woman and they are satanic to the core," Parker said of Reno and the government. "We cannot forget what happened here."
The ceremony was headed by Jones, an Austin-based shortwave radio talk show host who launched the effort to raise money and labor to build the church. Nearly $94,000 was raised and thousands of volunteers ensured the church's completion for the tragedy's seventh anniversary.
Survivor Clive Doyle began a brave attempt at reading each of the 82 names, but was overcome with tears when he reached Shari Elayna Doyle, his daughter. As he tried to compose himself, his mother, Edna Doyle, went to his side and held him, while members of the audience shouted things like, "We love you, Clive" and "She's waiting for you, Clive."
"Governments can destroy tangible buildings, but as long as there's one child of God, they cannot destroy the church," Doyle said later.
Doyle and others also called for the release of seven fellow Davidians who remain in federal prison on weapons and manslaughter convictions. Some are serving 40-year sentences.
During a break outside, Sharon Jessamine of Fort Worth, Texas, stood quietly in front of a small granite marker that memorializes the victims of Oklahoma City.
"It's more a political rally than a remembrance," said Jessamine, a former area resident who attended the ceremony out of curiosity. "I don't really care who did what to who. It's just a tragedy that it happened."

"For Waco Davidians, a new era"

by Connie Mabin (Associated Press, April 20, 2000)

WACO, Texas -- A bell outside a new Branch Davidian church rang 82 times Wednesday, once for each person who died during the fire seven years ago that ended the government siege of the religious sect's compound.
Nearly 300 people, many of them survivors and their relatives, packed into the chapel on the site of the former compound near Waco to remember those who died and to celebrate a new beginning.
As the bell rang, survivor Clive Doyle tearfully read the names and ages of the dead, including Davidian leader David Koresh and Doyle's 18-year-old daughter, Shari Alex Jones, a radio talk-show host who organized the $92,000 volunteer effort to build the church, named Doyle a trustee during the dedication ceremony.
"Government can come and destroy the building but as long as there is one child of God, they cannot destroy the church," Doyle told the group.
Survivors also received a new flag to fly in front of the church. When the 51-day standoff between the government and the Branch Davidians ended in flames, federal agents took the sect's flag from atop the compound.
The fire happened several hours after the FBI tear-gassed the compound buildings. The government contends the deaths of the Davidians, whether caused by fire or gunshot wounds, came by their own hand.
The Branch Davidian fire happened exactly two years prior to the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Relatives of Branch Davidians have filed a wrongful-death suit against the federal government over the raid. A trial is scheduled to begin June 19.
Later in the day, former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Robert Rodriguez, who infiltrated the group's compound before the siege, came to pay respects to agents who were killed at the compound, angering several Davidians.
"I didn't come here to cause problems with anybody. ... I came here to pay respects to my people," Rodriguez said.

"Davidians remember those who died during 1993 siege"

by Mark England ("Waco Tribune-Herald", April 19, 2000)

Branch Davidians celebrated the return of a church to Mount Carmel Wednesday and remembered the 76 members who died after a fire engulfed their building seven years ago.
They also received a visit from a friend of their late leader, David Koresh.
Showing up unexpectedly was Robert Rodriguez, the former undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who became friends with the Davidians and warned his superiors that the group had learned they were planning a raid.
More than 300 people turned out for a five-hour event that featured the ringing of a bell for those who died and Davidians being handed the keys to a church built by volunteers.
Davidian Clive Doyle spoke briefly to reporters before the ceremonies.
"The deterioration and eroding of our rights seems to go on no matter who is in power," Doyle said. "What happened here was an eye-opener to a lot of people as to how bad it's gotten. It's a shame we continually have to remember this event, but the way it's been distorted and people go on suffering, I think it's necessary to go on bringing this up to the American people."
Visitors came from as far as away as Michigan and Florida.
John Whiting was one of several visitors from Michigan. He's the chaplain of the 20th Michigan Militia Brigade. He and other militia members wore camouflage fatigues and black berets.
"We want to make a statement that this is not going to happen again," Whiting said. "If it does, there will be an immediate retaliation from the Michigan militia. They don't want to try it again. There's also another reason we're out here. We wanted to apologize to these people for sitting at home on our duffs while this happened."
Attending the dedication and memorial services were prominent Davidians such as Bonnie Haldeman, Koresh's mother, Catherine Matteson, Edna Doyle, Sheila Martin and David Thibodeau, one of nine Davidians who survived the final day. Thibodeau and his band performed.
Speakers included Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general and David Hardy, an Arizona attorney who forced the government to release classified information on the Davidian siege. Also in attendance was Alex Jones, the radio host from Austin who led the drive to build the Davidians a new church, which is substantially completed. Recently installed ceiling fans kept a standing-room-only crowd cool on a muggy day.
Clark, as he entered the church, criticized the Clinton administration.
"It's no coincidence that Bill Clinton and Janet Reno are in Oklahoma City today for a memorial service there," said Clark, who is representing several Davidians suing the government. "They're not here, and they caused this. What about their victims? You don't hear a word about them."
Jones told how the church-building campaign was launched.
"Seven months ago, I sat down with Clive and said, 'Why don't we build a church?'" Jones said. "He said, 'I've heard people talk about building one. You want to try, go ahead.' We had people from every state here helping. God bless you all. It shows that the American people stood up and said, 'We don't believe the lies. We researched it ourselves, and what happened at Mount Carmel was wrong.'"
Jones handed Doyle the keys to the church, whose construction was financed by more than $93,000 in donations.
"The Apostle Paul tried to get the attention of the Jewish Christians and the gentile Christians that the temple was more important than the building," said Doyle, choking up. "That is us. Government can come and destroy the building. But as long as there is one child of God, they cannot destroy the church." Brad Forbes and his three-year-old son Casey were among those listening in the audience. The railroad engineer drove up from Newberry, Fla. for the ceremonies.
"The more evidence that comes out the clearer it is that what happened here was wrong," Forbes said. "I felt a personal obligation to be here today. Every American sat and watched those women and children gassed and burned and did nothing. I guess that's why I'm here, to say it won't happen again." The fire on April 19, 1993 started several hours after the FBI began firing tear gas into Mount Carmel. Surviving Davidians and relatives of those who died filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the federal government. The government argues the deaths of the Davidians, whether caused by fire or gunshot wounds, came by their own hand. A trial is set for June 19.
Rodriguez arrived early in the afternoon, riding up the long gravel drive to the new church on a purple Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. The media and the public quickly encircled the former ATF agent, who wore boots, black chaps, a black vest (the words "ATF Special Agent" stitched on it), dark sunglasses and a bandana.
He lived in a house across Double E Ranch Road for months in 1992-93 while posing as a college student, a ruse that Davidians said they never believed. He befriended the Davidians, whom the ATF was after for possessing automatic weapons.
During the siege, Koresh asked to speak to Rodriguez, whom he trusted. The FBI refused Koresh's request.
Rodriguez, however, was greeted with hostility on his return to Mount Carmel, especially when he defended his former agency.
"I'm telling you, something would have happened if nothing had been done," Rodriguez said, speaking calmly but pressed against a TV van by the growing crowd, which did not include any Davidians. "Eventually, there would have been people killed within this area because he (Koresh) needed to fulfill his prophecy."
Koresh prophesied that the government would come after him, although he taught that it would be because he had multiple wives.
A man asked who shot first during the 1993 raid, which resulted in four ATF agents and five Branch Davidians being shot to death.
"We did not shoot first," Rodriguez said.
"No, they didn't shoot first," (Alex) Jones said, working his way through the crowd. "They did shoot first. We know that."
Rodriguez was asked if the Davidians were "gearing up for war" when he left Mount Carmel on Feb. 28, 1993.
"When I left, everything was calm," he said. "Once I left anything is possible."
The crowd began closing in on Rodriguez, who edged away, asking several people, "May I please leave?" He stopped when someone asked loudly why he was at Mount Carmel.
"I came because of my people," Rodriguez said, stopping. "A lot of things happened here. A lot of things happened to me. It changed my life. It will be with me for the rest of my life."
The exchange was tense, but those in the crowd upset with Rodriguez's appearance settled for verbal put-downs. A man helping provide security walked by and said, "Pig."
Jones urged the crowd to come inside the church and listen to the day's speakers "instead of this distraction sent here by the feds." A third man eyed Rodriguez's motorcycle and said, "I didn't know jack-booted thugs earned that much money."
Most people at Mount Carmel, though, were like David Hall of Fort Worth. They didn't come to confront anyone, just to remember those who died seven years ago. Hall, a member of the Associated Conservatives of Texas, has been to every one of the memorials at Mount Carmel.
Hall always brings a 3,000-pound replica of the Liberty Bell, crack and all, and rings it to honor the dead. After each toll, Doyle, inside the church, tearfully read the names and ages of the dead, including his 18-year-old daughter, Shari.
When Hall finished ringing the bell, he stood wistfully by himself.
"When you stand here and hear the resonance, it really makes you solemn," Hall said.
"Those lives are worth so much more than the ringing of a bell."

"Davidians hope a new church can close wounds"

by Connie Mabin (Associated Press, April 19, 2000)

WACO, Texas (AP) -- A bell outside a new Branch Davidian church rang 82 times Wednesday, once for each person who died during the fire seven years ago that ended the government siege of the religious sect's compound.
Nearly 300 people, many of them survivors and their relatives, packed into the chapel on the site of the former compound near Waco to remember those who died and to celebrate a new beginning.
As the bell rang, survivor Clive Doyle tearfully read the names and ages of the dead, including Davidian leader David Koresh and Doyle's 18-year-old daughter, Shari Alex Jones, a radio talk-show host who organized the $92,000 volunteer effort to build the church, named Doyle a trustee during the dedication ceremony.
``Government can come and destroy the building but as long as there is one child of God, they cannot destroy the church,'' Doyle told the group.
Survivors also received a new flag to fly in front of the church. When the 51-day standoff between the government and the Branch Davidians ended in flames, federal agents took the sect's flag from atop the compound.
The fire happened several hours after the FBI tear-gassed the compound buildings. The government contends the deaths of the Davidians, whether caused by fire or gunshot wounds, came by their own hand.
Relatives of Branch Davidians have filed a wrongful-death suit against the federal government over the raid. A trial is scheduled to begin June 19.
Later in the day, former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Robert Rodriguez, who infiltrated the group's compound before the siege, came to pay respects to agents who were killed at the compound, angering several Davidians.
``I didn't come here to cause problems with anybody. ... I came here to pay respects to my people,'' Rodriguez said.

"Waco's Lingering Questions"

by Jim Ryan ("ABC News", April 19, 2000)

April 19 - The smoke has cleared, but nagging questions linger.
Seven years after the Branch Davidian fire, a battle rages over who was responsible for the deadly end to the 51-day standoff between federal agents and a little-known religious sect holed up in a ramshackle collection of plywood buildings 10 miles east of Waco, Texas.
Attorneys for surviving Branch Davidian members insist that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents lobbed incendiary devices into the group's main living quarters on April 19, 1993, after a six-hour assault that included the use of tanks to punch holes in the building for the insertion of tear gas.
The lawyers also maintain that agents fired bullets into the compound to prevent the escape of the more than 80 adults and children inside and that infrared video images captured on that day by a government airplane circling the scene bear out their assertion.
The controversial videotape shows mysterious glints of light coming from various points around the 77-acre patch of land where the Davidians had lived. Survivors say those blips were muzzle flashes from government guns.
The Government's Case

For its part, the Justice Department has always maintained that no federal agents fired a shot on that windy Monday morning and that only non-flammable tear gas devices were injected into the building.
Attorney General Janet Reno, in fact, has said that holes were knocked into the walls to allow the Branch Davidians to escape the crumbling structure. The government, too, said its claims of a no-gunfire policy were proven by the infrared tape - that the glints were not muzzle flashes but reflections of sunlight from the trash-littered ground around the site.
On a hilly field about 50 miles southwest of Waco, the two sides gathered on March 19 to test at least some of their theories. A remote area - complete with scattered debris, twisted aluminum and small ponds - was set up on a firing range at the Fort Hood U.S. Army base.
With attorneys for the two sides watching, men playing the part of ATF agents fired a variety of weapons into the "compound" as a British helicopter equipped with a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) video camera recorded the scene from high above. Comparisons were made between the 1993 tape and the 2000 tape and, within a day, both sides were eager to publicize the results.
Early on March 20, a Justice Department attorney claimed victory, saying his analysis of the two tapes confirmed that flashes of light seen on the 1993 videotape most likely came from the broken glass and stock ponds found around the Davidian complex.
A few hours later, the chief Davidian lawyer sounded just as confident when he announced that his viewing of the tapes only bolstered his original claim that federal guns were, indeed, fired on April 19, 1993.
Trial Pushed to June

The result of all the testing, re-testing, news conferences and counter-news conferences will be the eventual beginning of the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit against the federal government.
The trial was to start in mid-May, but U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco has pushed back the proceedings to June 19 to give the two sides more time to gather evidence and the British consulting firm hired to stage the Ft. Hood re-enactment more time to analyze the videotapes.
Meanwhile, from the ashes of the Branch Davidian compound 10 miles east of Waco, comes a resurrection, of sorts.
A makeshift museum offers visitors a Davidian account of the eight-week standoff and the inferno that ended it and trees have been planted to memorialize the dozens of people who died in the fire.
A private group is in the midst of a fund-raising campaign aimed at building a new church on the site of the one that burned to the ground on April 19, 1993.

"Davidians Look to New Church"

by Connie Mabin (Associated Press, April 19, 2000)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - For six years, those who came to mourn the lives lost in the fiery end to the Branch Davidian siege saw only slabs of concrete and the rusted carcass of a motorcycle.
This year, the organizers of a new Branch Davidian church built near the site hope it will serve as a more appropriate reminder of the tragedy that took place near Waco on April 19, 1993.
``The whole point is just to say that, 'Hey, we think that what happened here was wrong,''' said Alex Jones, a radio talk-show host who organized the $92,000 construction effort.
A dedication service was scheduled today in Mount Carmel, 10 miles west of Waco. Survivors and supporters were expected to attend.
``It's a memorial to those who died and is a statement, a positive statement that says we are not going to stand by,'' said Violet Nichols, a volunteer.
Davidian leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died during the fire that occurred several hours after the FBI tear-gassed their compound to end a 51-day standoff with federal authorities. The government contends their deaths, whether from fire or gunshot wounds, came by their own hand.
Relatives of Branch Davidians have filed a wrongful-death suit against the federal government over the raid's fiery conclusion. A trial is scheduled to begin June 19.
Many in the university city of 103,600, about 100 miles northeast of Austin, have hoped for closure of the issue.
``Unfortunately, I thought someday we would shake it,'' said Robert Darden, a Baylor University English professor who studied the sect and wrote a book about Koresh after the standoff. ``But I was wrong.''

"Davidians will dedicate new church at site of fatal siege"

by Terry Ganey and William H. Freivogel ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", April 19, 2000)

Seven years after Waco, the Branch Davidians seem no closer to proving deliberate government wrongdoing than they were on April 19, 1993, when the 51-day siege ended in a fiery climax.
This morning, Branch Davidians and their supporters will mark the anniversary of the fire by dedicating a new church on the spot where about 80 members of the sect died. The Davidians will hold a religious service, turn over the keys to the church and present a plaque listing the names of the dead.
Most of the speeches are expected to reinforce the notion that the government did its worst at Waco, a belief that seems unlikely to disappear in the minds of some. That was evident a month ago during the re-enactment test at which critics questioned the integrity of the test and wondered aloud whether special counsel John C. Danforth could be trusted to fairly investigate.
The test, designed to determine whether FBI agents fired at the sect's complex, may end up helping the government's defense. Although the test tapes are still sealed by U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr., those who have seen them -- including a new, clearer version -- say they show images of people not present in the original tapes and flashes from debris. Those findings tend to discount the possibility of government gunfire.
Where does that leave the 7-month-old special investigation by former Sen.
Danforth? Nothing has emerged publicly to show there was illegal military involvement at Waco. The evidence still suggests the Branch Davidians started the fire.
And if there was a broad cover-up at the FBI or Justice Department, it has yet to be disclosed in depositions that have become public.
In other words, the answer to the four "dark questions" of government wrongdoing that Danforth identified at the beginning of his probe seems to be: "No."
That does not mean that the government is blameless. Nor does it mean that the Branch Davidians are without a legal case.
Judge Smith still has before him the question of whether agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms used excessive force in the botched raid that began the 51-day standoff. And there are other issues related to the April 19 assault:
* Did FBI commanders go too far when converted tanks began ramming deep into< the complex to insert tear gas?
* Could armored fire fighting equipment have saved lives when the complex became an inferno?
* Did commanders act too aggressively by not following the advice of negotiators who believed David Koresh might eventually come out? * Did the mixture of the tear gas contribute to the deaths of women and children who sought refuge in a concrete walled room?
Reno's deposition
Mike Caddell and Jim Brannon, lawyers for the Branch Davidian plaintiffs, questioned Attorney General Janet Reno in a contentious two-hour deposition on March 28. Caddell tried to get Reno to say that two of the FBI's commanders, Jeff Jamar and Richard Rogers, had exceeded her orders by demolishing the complex with converted tanks. But Reno backed her commanders 100 percent. She said they had the discretion to react to siege conditions and that the tanks' movements were part of the plan to insert tear gas into the complex.
The destruction of the complex is an element in Caddell's argument that Rogers and Jamar should be named individual defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit when it goes to trial this summer. When Reno and FBI officials considered earlier versions of the eviction plan, they considered the gradual destruction of the complex. But in the final plan, destruction wasn't to begin until 48 hours after the beginning of the gas insertion.
About five hours into the gas attack, the converted tanks began penetrating the front and rear of the complex. It appears they are demolishing the building, with the collapse of the gymnasium in the back. Caddell has pointed out that when agents were later cited for commendations, the description said they were involved in "the systematic dismantling of the gymnasium." But Jamar and Rogers have said they weren't trying to tear down the gym, only to penetrate the structure to insert gas near the kitchen area where people had taken refuge. Reno agreed. She said the tanks were trying to make the gas more effective and to create openings for people to escape.
"If they were concerned just with tearing down the building, they would have started on the outside rather than going in and exposing themselves to considerable danger," Reno said.
The destruction of the building is important to Caddell's case because he argues that it could have kept people from escaping. While the tanks plowed into the complex, FBI agent Byron Sage announced over a loud speaker that "this is not an assault" and "we are not coming in."
"Someone in the building could be reasonably be afraid to come out because they were being lied to," Caddell said.
The firefighting plan, or the lack of it, is another key issue of Caddell's case. "The failure to have firefighting equipment is probably the claim that is most easily linked to the loss of life," Caddell said. About two-thirds of the fatalities at Waco were caused by the fire, and the rest were from gunshots.
A lethal mixture?
Danforth's investigation had been conducted in secret. However, federal officials disclosed that an FBI agent in charge of refilling the tear gas canisters was called before a federal grand jury in St. Louis March 21.
Compressed CS gas was delivered through the tanks' booms, which punched holes in the walls of the sect's complex. CS gas is a riot control agent that irritates the skin and causes tearing, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.
The gas was propelled by carbon dioxide and suspended in methylene chloride, the same component used in paint remover. A House committee investigation of Waco in 1995 raised the possibility that a high dose of methylene chloride may have affected the Davidians who had sought refuge in the concrete room used as a food storage locker.
Federal authorities refer to the room as "the bunker." The largest number of bodies - 31 women, children and babies - were found in the 14-by-14-foot room. It had only one door and no other means of ventilation. The committee concluded that a high concentration of methylene chloride on people in the room could have produced "anesthetic effects" and "impaired the Davidians' ability to escape."
"It is possible that the levels of methylene chloride in the bunker were such that the chemical impaired the Davidians' ability to escape the room," the report said.
No one knows for sure how much gas was pumped into the room. But Erik R. Larsen, an expert hired by one of the Branch Davidians' lawyers, believes the dose in the bunker was sufficient to kill children and to put women into a coma. Larsen, who lives in Midland, Mich., retired as a senior research chemist for Dow Chemical Co. in 1986.
"They got anywhere from one quart to one gallon," Larsen said. "A gallon could have killed everyone.
On Jan. 28, Judge Smith granted a request made by Danforth's office for tissue and bone samples of the human remains from the victims. Samples from someone exposed to methylene chloride will show the presence of cyanide. About 40 of the bodies show the presence of cyanide.
However, investigators say hundreds of burning substances - from plastics to substances found in furniture in the complex - could have created cyanide found in the bodies. For example, cyanide was found in the body of a Branch Davidian who was killed during the initial Feb. 28 government raid. The person was a smoker, which could explain the cyanide in his body.
"There's no way to look at the autopsy findings to show that's what killed them," Larsen says.
Judge Smith issued an opinion last July 1 that seemed to rule out the opportunity for raising tear gas as an issue in the Branch Davidians' lawsuit. Still, some lawyers would like to get it in the trial.
In the deposition of Reno, Brannon asked about the use of CS gas, and Reno said she had been assured by an adviser that it would not cause permanent harm to children, adults or the elderly.
"So, I suppose then you wouldn't remember him saying anything like, 'If you put this into this concrete room, this vault as you call it, or bunker, as you call it, if you put four bottles of this stuff in there, you will in effect kill everyone in there'? Did he tell you anything like that?" Brannon asked.
Reno responded, "He didn't tell me anything like that because there was no plan to do that."

"U.S. defends its handling of Waco evidence: Sect says some items lost, altered"

by Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", April 18, 2000)

Government lawyers filed a point-by-point response Monday to claims that key evidence from the Branch Davidian siege was lost or intentionally altered, arguing that officials acted properly in collecting and turning over evidence from the 1993 raid.
The lengthy pleading comes one week before U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco will conduct a hearing to determine whether the government should be sanctioned or fined for its handling of key evidence from April 19, 1993, the final day of the siege near Waco.
Lawyers representing relatives of the sect asked the judge last month to punish the government for what they say is a "disturbing pattern" of missing or altered evidence, including still photos, infrared videos and audio recordings from FBI bugs inside the Branch Davidian compound at the end of the siege.
The government's 41-page response countered that those allegations relied on incomplete, illogical or scientifically invalid analyses by the plaintiffs' hired experts and lawyers.
"This evidence, as shown below, has not been tampered with or altered, and, in those few instances where, after seven years, the items cannot be located, there is no showing of . . . improper motive by the FBI," the government's pleading read.
The government said seven rolls of still photos were taken from an FBI airplane in the last hours of the siege.
Lawyers for the sect have alleged that most of the original negatives are missing from one roll of film shot from that FBI airplane. They also have said many more than seven rolls were shot on the last day.
The government's motion noted that the missing negatives had previously been acknowledged when they were turned over to the federal court in Waco.
Government lawyers also dismissed the claims that "suspicious gaps" exist between the still photos taken in the final hours of the standoff. The motion said such charges are "inherently suspect because three of the four alleged 'suspicious gaps' occur within rolls of film as opposed to between rolls of film."
The government said an FBI recording expert found no evidence to support claims by the sect's experts that infrared video recordings made that day from another FBI airplane were altered, partially erased or tampered with.
The government's motion argued that the findings of a sect expert cannot be relied upon because he has acknowledged that they were based on only a partial analysis of the infrared tapes.
The FBI's recording expert also determined that all of the FBI recordings turned over to the court from surveillance devices inside the compound April 19 are original recordings. The government's motion disputed the sect experts' assessment that electronic signals on those tapes and other evidence suggested that they were not originals and had somehow been altered.
A missing roll of film shot by a Texas Department of Public Safety photographer has recently been located in the trove of Branch Davidian evidence held by the U.S. district clerk in Waco. Lawyers for the sect had complained that the missing roll of film could have provided key information and turned up missing only after being taken into custody in 1993 by the FBI.
The government said that "flash-bang" grenades found in the burned ruins were not from the FBI at the end of the siege but rather came from an earlier federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms botched raid that began the Branch Davidian standoff.
Lawyers for the sect had alleged that the devices were mislabeled as "silencers" by the FBI laboratory and could have sparked the fire that consumed the compound.
Both sides will appear Monday in Judge Smith's Waco courtroom to present evidence in what could prove a dress rehearsal for the June trial of the sect's wrongful-death lawsuit.
Lawyers for sect members and their relatives have alleged that government negligence and wrongdoing were at least partially responsible for the deaths in the April 19 fire. More than 80 sect members died amid the blaze, which broke out about six hours after FBI agents began assaulting the building with tanks and tear gas to try to force an end to the 51-day siege.
Sect lawyers have charged that government gunfire in the last hours of that tear-gas assault kept many Branch Davidians from escaping when a fire broke out in their wooden building.
But lawyers for the government have countered that the Branch Davidians refused to surrender and deliberately set fire to their home. They and FBI officials have also vehemently denied charges that government agents fired guns in Waco on April 19.

"Negatives from film shot at Waco are missing, U.S. says"

by William H. Freivogel and Terry Ganey ("The St. Louis Post-Dispatch", April 18, 2000)

The Justice Department admitted Monday that it could not find the original negatives of an important roll of film taken on the last day of the siege of the Branch Davidians' complex. But it said it had not tampered with those photos or with infrared and electronic surveillance tapes of the 1993 episode that left about 80 Branch Davidians dead.
The government acknowledged in a court filing Monday that it is missing 30 original negatives from the first of at least seven rolls of film shot by an FBI photographer who circled 1,000 feet above the complex in a Cessna surveillance aircraft.
The government, however, does have prints of the missing negatives and the original contact sheet of the negatives.
This roll of film is important because it appears to show that there are no government agents standing where flashes show up on infrared surveillance tape of the incident. The absence of agents undercuts the Branch Davidians' claim that the flashes are from the guns of agents firing into the complex.
One strip of original negatives from that first roll of film has been turned over to the federal court that is hearing the Branch Davidians' wrongful death suit against the government. That strip contains a key photograph that appears to have been taken at 11:24 a.m., within seconds of flashes on the video. That photograph shows no agents in the vicinity of the flashes.
But the other negatives from that roll of film have been missing since at least 1997 and have not been found despite an extensive search by the FBI, the Justice Department said. Agents searched for the negatives at least five times.
The department said that the strip of original negatives with the photo from 11:24 a.m. was separated from the missing original negatives when Congress requested it as part of its 1995 investigation of Waco.
A document analyst with the Special Photo Unit of the FBI, identified only as "ALS," found that the negatives were missing around April 1997. The FBI then made a duplicate set of the negatives from photographs and marked them with the notation "originals lost."
The Davidians' attorney, Michael Caddell, had claimed that one of the photos from the replacement negatives had a white scratch that appeared to obliterate a speck that day might be a person. But the Justice Department said that the contact sheet, made from the original negative, had no person or speck.
The Justice Department also disputed Caddell's claim that several rolls of the film were missing. The photographer taking the film that day said he took about 10 rolls, give or take one or two. The FBI produced seven rolls. In Monday's court filing, the department produced logs and records that appear to show that only seven rolls were shot and developed.
The government argued in its court filing that it should not be fined for any discrepancies involving the photos or tapes.

Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates

CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors

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